There is friendly chaos and chatter as everyone arrives. With the rituals of arranging snacks and sharpening pencils the atmosphere settles into one of anticipation. Once everyone has arrived there is a discussion about the mandala theme for the evening while late comers continue to sharpen their pencils, their wands of light. Sometimes I have a theme or intention planned for the evening; sometimes we decide on the theme for the following week; sometimes we draw a spiritual concept and all work on the same concept; at other times we each draw a separate concept for that night. Occasionally, someone will come with the needs of a friend on their heart and we will all create gift or healing mandalas for that person or for someone else that we know.
Once we have decided what we are working with, everyone settles down, takes three deep breathes and is guided through the Wholeness exercise which puts them in touch with the torus patterned flow of energy through their energy bodies and their connection with the Heavens and the Earth. From this awareness they are guided inward to ask their inner selves for a symbol to create tonight’s mandala. After charging the wands of light with etheric energy and “Om”ing the energy for their symbol onto the dark potential of a black square of paper, everyone begins working on their mandala.
The room is quiet now. Everyone is focused on the creation of the symbol manifesting through their hands and their wands of light onto the paper in front of them. Music is usually started at this time, but sometimes no one notices that there is no music; everyone is focused in their own internal process.
This meditation occurs every Monday night, usually around my dining room table, but on the rare occasions that I have been unavailable the group has met at my daughter Dana’s home. The participants vary in lifestyle, spiritual traditions and spiritual awareness. Most have participated in a workshop for Judith Cornell’s mandala healing process. Sometimes we have several new people join us who are taking my Communiversity class through the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC); some will come back, others will take only the one class. Sometimes a ‘regular’ will bring a friend who has seen the mandalas posted on Facebook and wants to learn more about them.
For the people who attend each week, there is growth in spirit. There is a deepening awareness of self as a luminous spiritual being. This shows in the mandalas they create and the comments they share from their journaling. And there is healing, both immediate and extended.
Last Monday was chaotic for all of us in the Kansas City region. From around 3:00 pm until 7:00 pm there were tornado warnings and severe thunderstorms in progress. People were required to take cover here twice during this time period. A tornado was on the ground in Liberty, just north of my home in Independence and three more were spotted west and southwest of here in Kansas. That natural anxiety and restlessness that accompanies large storms was pervasive. Because of these weather conditions, only Tina and I were available for the Monday mandala meditation. To settle us down, we choose to focus on gratitude in a “thank you for this moment” mandala.
After the Wholeness exercise, our meditation focused on connecting with our inner physical processes: heartbeat, breathing. Then we broadened the focus to the energy bodies and continued outward to connect with soul and with Source. When we had completed our mandalas, we were calm, the chaos of the day behind us.
Tina’s mandala focused on her heartbeat. Mine focused on the “big picture”. The diversity of the images that come forth during the mandala process never ceases to amaze. And there is so much to learn. The mandala ‘speaks’ to me as I create it. Often I am questioning “Why this image; why this color?” as I am creating. And the answers I receive are so revealing.
I still remember the first ‘spiritual concept’ mandala I created. It was a class assignment. The concept I drew randomly from slips of paper was “integrity”. All through the creation of the mandala I was meditating on the idea of integrity and questioning the forms and colors that emerged. This is the first mandala that I created with a square in it; for me the square represented structure. And what emerged was the idea of integrity as that which provides a scaffolding, a structure, upon which to build character. I had never really considered the concept of integrity so this was quite enlightening.
Our Monday Mandala Meditation nights illustrate one way in which Judith Cornell’s mandala healing process can be used. This process can be found to parallel many aspects of mandala work in other cultural contexts, including the Buddhist, Native American and Western alchemical contexts, all of which ultimately relate back to the shamanic world view of wholeness.
So what exactly is a mandala, anyway? In its simplest form, mandala is a circle with a center. According to Robert Thurman, it can be “any circle . . .the sun or moon and by extension any environment or surround.” Thurman further explains that the word mandala derives from the Sanskrit words ‘manda’, meaning essence, and ‘la’ meaning the enclosure for an essence or jewel.
“The mandala in its highest tantric representation is a symbolic pattern of light and sound, reflecting the evolution of the universe and the supreme, blissful realization of the soul or high-Self within the human body/mind – remembering and experiencing itself as a spark of the original pure clear light of consciousness,” states Judith Cornell as she extolls the virtues of the mandala as it appears historically and as we create them day by day.
Everything about Cornell’s mandala process reflects the idea that there is a luminous self that is our true or authentic self and we can be in communion with this true self through the experience of mandala. This is not a new idea or practice, but an adaptation of an ancient process that taps into our subconscious memory through the archetypal pattern of mandala. As Guiseppe Tucci explains in The Theory and Practice of Mandala, “. . .we are dealing with archetypes which are innate in the soul of Man and which, therefore, reappear in different lands and at different epochs . . .”
Robert Thurman, in Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment, provides great insight into the use of mandala throughout the centuries in the East. Here mandala has been developed into a tool for the transmission of information and ideas as well as for a roadmap of the cosmos and a tool to access the ‘pure lands’. “. . . mandala is a matrix of embodiment. It is the architecture of enlightenment in its bliss and compassion-generated emanations. It is a womb palace within which infinite wisdom and compassion can manifest as forms discernable to ordinary beings. It is natural that the model. . . would suggest transcendence, security, and the glory of the exultation of the divine, ” says Thurman. Mandala creates “an imaginative rift in the fabric of the ordinary world through which the extraordinary world of the Buddhas can be glimpsed.”
Mandala has been used as a teaching tool for initiates, to trace teachings to different locations/periods, to date the passing of information, to tell stories, using the elements to portray the events and sites in the story, to describe the “pure lands” for meditation and access, and to depict life of Buddha and the roles of the eight bodhisattvas. And in Tibetan Buddhism, mandala is used to create the virtual temple in which the initiation occurs.
In most Buddhist mandalas, the ‘essence’ is the Buddha, surrounded by his environment which usually includes the eight bodhisattvas, all of which are enclosed in the circle of the mandala. When we participate in Judith Cornell’s process we, as our illumined higher self, become the essence and our subconscious environment is revealed for us in the process of mandala creation. The mandala then provides us with access to our inner subconscious thought patterns and over time can serve as a roadmap of our own journey towards wholeness and awareness of our own connection with deity.
Manly P. Hall describes mandala meditation as a means whereby we can map the condition of our ‘psychic content’, “as one might chart the physical solar system with its parts and members clearly indicated and its functions graphically pictured. If correctly pictured, such a diagram would resemble a mandala. . . reveal[ing] a world of thought ruled over by a demigod called the thinker and enthroned in the midst of his minions, which are extensions of himself and represent the processes by which ideas move into manifestation.”
The mandala is used in a variety of ways throughout the world, but they each relate back to the central idea of wholeness as an experience of an essence contained in the circle of the environment. In the Sami shamanic tradition the shaman records his sojourns into the lower, upper and between worlds on his drum, overtime creating a mandala which can be used much like the Buddhist mandalas which are maps of the “pure lands”. Due to the devastation of the shamanic traditions of the Sami people, the drums of the old shaman are now being used as roadmaps of the shamanic worlds in order to assist in the reconstruction of the traditions. In The Shamanic Zone, Ailo Gaup describes going to museums to copy the faces of ancient shaman drums. Interestingly, these drums provide an accurate map to worlds visited during journeys made by modern shaman. The tradition of recording drum journeys on the face of the facilitating drum is now being continued by new generations of shaman.
In Judith Cornell’s process one ‘journeys’ into one’s own inner world, returning, in the mythic journey of the hero, then ‘mapping’ the journey on the mandala. This journey, like many shamanic journeys, is done for the purpose of healing, whether the journey is for the healing of the perception of division from the luminous self or for the healing of another through accessing and creating a healing symbol for the other person.
The Navajo people of the Southwest use sand mandalas for a healing ritual in which the person receiving the healing is placed in the center of the mandala. Jeanne Achterberg, in Imagery in Healing, points out that “The sand painting [mandala] is the central element in Navaho healing, and represents the spiritual and physical landscape in which a patient and illness exist, the etiology of the disease, and the mythology chosen for cure. . . Power radiates from the center to all in attendance.” Here, again, we see the self as the center of the mandala and the environment, containing both the disease and its cure, contained within the circle.
Manly P. Hall explores mandala as a meditational tool in both the Eastern and Western traditions: “The mandala as a magic circle is associated with the primitive rites of many ancient culture groups. The world diagram or parts thereof can be used in talismanic magic as a charm or protection again evil. The magic circle found in old European grimoires has many meanings, not the least of which is the magnetic field of the human body which serves as a protection against evil forces – physically or metaphysically.”
Tucci also mentions mandala as a talisman of protection where it has been used in Western occult traditions as the magic circle which protects the magician from the forces invoked. “[The mandala] represents protection from the mysterious forces that menace the sacral purity of the spot or which threaten the psychical integrity of him who performs the ceremony; it also implies, by magical transposition, the world itself, so that when the magician or mystic stands in the centre he identifies himself with the forces that govern the universe and collects their thaumaturgical power within himself.”
The ultimate purpose of the Western occult traditions parallels Cornell’s mandala process. It is driven by the desire to contact the luminous self, sometimes referred to as the Holy Guardian Angel. This deified self assists in restoring wholeness. The motto of the Magister of the Temple is “To know that I might serve.”
In this Western occult tradition, a mandala is created, literally, with etheric energy. The practitioner, or aspirant, starts in the center of a square room, paralleling the square piece of paper upon which we will create our mandala. The square, or the cubed altar when one is used, represents matter and the earth element.
In the ritual of the Lesser Earth Banishing Pentagram, the aspirant is first aligned with Source, with the luminous self, through the cabalistic cross performed in the center of the room: “Ateh”, “For thine”, “Malkuth”, “is the Kingdon”, “ve Geburah”, “and the Power”, “ve Gedulah”, “and the Glory”, “le Olam”, “throughout the World”, “Amen”, and so it is. A line of light is now seen as traveling from the heavens to the earth through the central channel of the body.
The aspirant then proceeds to the east and traces the earth banishing pentagram in the air and tones/vibrates a name of God. The aspirant then moves to the south, the west and the north, each time tracing the pentagram and toning a Hebraic name of the divine. During the transition to each quarter, a connecting circle is traced with etheric energy. Once the room has been traversed, and a complete circle created, the aspirant returns to the center and calls the Archangels to their quarters, Raphael, Michael, Gabriel and Uriel, respectively.
After the Archangels are in place, the aspirant declares with great intensity “For about me flame the pentagrams and in the column shines the six-rayed star.” At this point a mandala has been created with a five-pointed star in each direction guarded by an angelic presence. A column of light has appeared in the center, shining down through a Star of David where the essence of the aspirant, aligned with the divine, now stands. The aspirant then repeats the cabalistic cross, and is prepared to proceed with whatever ritual has been chosen to continue the aspirant’s intention to unity with Source and align with the luminous self.
What we have at this point, traced in etheric energy, is an empty circle, devoid of the influence of the Earth element. A protected circle appropriate for a mythic journey within, a journey of infinite possibilities. The aspirant may now simply choose to meditate, or continue to create a more complex ‘mandala’ environment for self-exploration.
What the thaumaturgy does in the secret temple is not that different from what we do every Monday. We start with a black square of paper on which we trace, with pencils, which have been charged with etheric energy to become our ‘wands of light’. With these wands of light, we trace the magic circle of spirit, the womb, which contains all potential. We align ourselves with Source and our own luminous self though meditation. We tone a sacred frequency. And we create an environment appropriate for self-exploration and a restoration of wholeness.
The concept that is shared by all mandalas, regardless of the culture from which they arise, is that of wholeness. Whether the mandala provides a portal to another realm in which we can access energies to bring us to a more complete, more whole, state of existence, or provides the environment necessary to reinstate the wholeness required to eliminate disease, or acts as a means for re-connection to our own luminous Self, the mandala ultimately brings us to a picture of wholeness. And wholeness, in the shamanic world view, means health.
“[The mandala is] endeavouring to express either the totality of the individual in his inner or outer experience of the world, or its essential point of reference. The object is the self in contra-distinction to the ego, which is only the point of reference for the consciousness, whereas the self comprises the totality of the psyche altogether, i.e., conscious and unconscious,” says C. G. Jung.
Cornell developed the mandala healing process to assist us in our journey toward wholeness, a wholeness encompassing not only our inner psyche but our connection to the universal light of consciousness: “. . . most of us are not in an illumined state of consciousness. Because of this, and because we identify ourselves with the physical body/mind, we experience much suffering due to the ignorance of our actions which do not admit to our divinity and ultimate relationship with divine consciousness. But deep within our psyches, this universal light of consciousness awaits our remembering and expressing who we really are.”
This is an ancient journey. It is a mythic journey, the journey of the hero and eternal return. And mandala is our roadmap. Fare well, traveler, and “may the road rise up to meet you and the wind be always at your back.”
“Light, sound, and consciousness are three aspects in which we can most easily understand the unification of sacred art, Western science and esoteric similarities within all religions. Rightly understood, the sacred art of the mandala mirroring the vibrational light of consciousness can be viewed as the creative amalgam between science and religion; inclusive of physics as well as metaphysics, it can help us to understand our own divine artistry in the unfolding patterns of light, sound and consciousness – a process of self-realization and ultimate healing.” – Judith Cornell.